2012′s Best Records Yet!
Welcome to the New Year!
It's been a few weeks now since I've cobbled together this much-loved blog, largely because that which inspires it--the seemingly unlimited supply of new album and DVD releases--dried up during the holidays!
Fortunately for all of us, I didn't!
But those weeks of apparent inactivity weren't entirely fruitless! During that time, I deliberately spent time examining--or re-examining--albums that somehow escaped my full attention during the past few decades! And I'm pleased to report that I spent some serious listening time to 1) The complete works of Kiki Dee, 2) The entire Rush catalog, 3) Most of the recordings by '70s mid-level Brit rockers Stray, and 4) the deluxe reissue of Jethro Tull's Aqualung!
My findings? Those albums are all completely excellent--with the exception of all the dopey Rush lyrics--but still nowhere near as thrilling as the news that Jay-Z and Beyoncé have named their new daughter Blue Ivy!
Earlier today I had a hangnail!
Snow Patrol: Fallen Empires (Island) When it comes to melodic rockers Snow Patrol--a fine band whose popularity perhaps crested a few albums ago--one vital question remains: How on earth would the band's svelte singer/songwriter Gary Lightbody feel about that name of his were he to be 50 pounds overweight or so? I mean, yikes, what irony! Additionally--and I feel this may indeed be the more pressing question--what sort of parents look at a spanking new, freshly born infant and then jointly declare: "He looks like a Gary! Let's call him Gary!" I mean, talk about a name that positively denotes facial hair! Record's cool, though!
Nightwish: Imaginaerum (Roadrunner) Speaking as a guy who just listened to a bunch of albums by Jukka Tolonen and Tasavallan Presidentti, one of the things I like best about Finland's Nightwish--aside from their being "unrivalled" in the heavy metal pantheon, according to their bio--is the ease with which the name allows me to fantasize being a passenger on a bus when, suddenly, hooded thugs with machine guns enter, point them at us all threateningly, and I boldly stand up, laugh, and declare, "Heck, shoot away--after all, I am...Nightwish!" Later, we'd go out for coffee and discuss the true origin of the cruller! Sort of like that time I was hanging with DMX and Ja Rule!
The Little Willies: For The Good Times (Milking Bull/EMI) Not exactly where you'd expect to find stellar musician Norah Jones hanging out, the Little Willies are in fact a group of longstanding musical friends that include Jones, bassist Lee Alexander, guitarists Jim Campilongo and Richard Julian, and drummer Dan Rieser--who've devoted much of this project to covering country music classics by the likes of Ray Price, Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton, among others, and do it all pretty darn well. Between you and me, maybe it's best they do exactly that--after all, let's just say "little willy" has lots of meanings around the world, and in England they're still getting over seeing Free Willy on movie marquees! As always, the less said the better!
Yo Gotti: Live From The Kitchen (Polo Grounds/J Music) Distinguished rapper Yo Gotti, a Memphis powerhouse who derived his name from his adolescent days as a customer at the neighborhood bakery--"Yo, Got any bavarian cremes?" he'd ask every day on the way home from school--returns here with a razor sharp effort detailing all that would follow since then! Following his graduation from Madame Von Lehrnen's Distinguished Cupcakery, the rapper moved on to the fiercely competitive world of baking competitions, and here--as the album title spells out--he makes his mark rapping about donut packaging ("Cases"), extremely good Apple Crumb donuts ("Killa"), and an unfortunate éclair incident ("Second Chance") best not detailed here! He's the finest rapper I've heard since 11:10!
Alex Chilton: Free Again: The '1970' Sessions (Omnivore) An unexpectedly good and worthwhile release--hey, what's up with that?--this disc captures cult legend Alex Chilton precisely between his leaving '60s hitmakers the Box Tops and his starting up the much-loved Big Star, and though much of this has circulated before, it's really an eye-opener, and great fun at that. While there are deliberate goofs to be had--such as the cover of "Sugar Sugar" and "I Wish I Could Meet Elvis"--there are also a few tracks like "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain" and "The EMI Song (Smile For Me)" that not would be out of place on Big Star 1.5. True: Many years ago I met him and he told me one of his favorite albums was Robin Gibb's Robin's Reign! So cool!
Electric Daisy Carnival Experience (Ultra DVD) Unless you're blind, deaf and dumb--and hey, aren't we all?--you probably realize that the current buzz of the last few centuries is that the dance scene of today offers up all the excitement and adventure that the Woodstocks of the world offered to the boomer generation, and as a special bonus--thanks to the incessant, throbbing beats and flashing lights--you don't have to have a conversation with anybody if you don't want to! This great DVD documents what some have called "the most prestigious electronic music festival on the planet," and features the likes of David Guetta, Kaskade, Major Lazer, Steve Aoki, Swedish House Mafia, among many others, and is certain to cause a ruckus were you to play it loudly at your house while passing around questionable substances! Still, hummus is tasty, so who could resist? I have seen the future of rock 'n' roll, and he's crouching in the corner kissing a wall and holding a glow stick! And where the heck are his pants?
Leonard Cohen: Complete Studio Albums Collection (Columbia Legacy) If I had to single out the exact package that I think would have been one of the past holiday season's most perfect gifts, it would unhesitatingly be this exquisite collection of Leonard Cohen's major works--an 11-CD box that, song for song, may be the finest display of raw, poetic talent that ever dropped into the world of popular music. There's really not much to say about the quality of the works here; personally, I'm partial to the albums the man released between 1968 (The Songs Of Leonard Cohen) and 1984 (Various Positions), but I'd never quibble with all that came afterward as well. Exceptionally crafted and remastered, the entire set goes for a stunningly low price and could not be more highly recommended. See for yourself.
Iron Butterfly: Fillmore East 1968 (Rhino Handmade) I think enough time has gone by to hear Iron Butterfly with "open ears" and disregard the horrendous cultural cliché that "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" would eventually become--and in point of fact, the band's first two albums, especially 1968's Heavy, still hold up remarkably well. Most of that is heard here live, played at the Fillmore and thankfully captured, and appears now courtesy of Rhino Handmade. Between "Unconscious Power" and "Iron Butterfly Theme"--the song that personally loops in my head whenever I walk into a cocktail party and am wearing sunglasses--and boy, that happens a lot!--this is a welcome slice of history that sounds better than ever in 2012! Find out more about it here.
David Crowder Band: Give Us Rest (Six Step) Some call this "inimitably progressive electronic rock," others call it the work of a "worship band," and still others call it late for dinner! Eventually the band arrives, making apologies all around, sits down, put a little barbecue and collard greens on their plates, says grace, then looks around to see if anyone's looking at them! But with great tracks like "Why Me?," "Oh My God," "I Am A Seed," and the stunning "Sometimes," there's no denying everyone is looking at them! "Hey man," friends will say, "is that a new shirt or something?" Someone's iPhone rings, then a fat guy at the other end of the table burps! And when the lights go out, everyone's knuckles turn white!
Safetysuit: These Times (Universal Republic) As compelling as Nashville rockers Safetysuit may be, the bothersome gloves they're forced to wear--part of that whole band name thing--basically mean there's nothing here but bar chords, open bass strings, and heavy reliance on the tom-tom! Sex? Don't even go there!